Donald Trump’s inaugural committee, which managed the $107m celebrations in Washington to mark the start of his presidency in 2017, has become the latest focus of federal prosecutors who, according to the Wall Street Journal, are now investigating whether the money was properly spent.
The Journal reports that Manhattan-based prosecutors are in the “early stages” of a criminal investigation into how the record sum for such a presidential inauguration was used, as well as whether huge donations were made in return for easy access to the Trump administration as it entered power. The newspaper says that were evidence found of improper spending or quid pro quo, it could amount to a criminal violation of US anti-corruption laws.
The new focus on Trump’s inauguration is the latest trouble to beset the president as a result of the dramatic downfall of his former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen who was sentenced to three years in prison this week. Cohen had pleaded guilty to federal crimes that included paying hush money to two women alleging sexual affairs with Trump in order to silence them during the 2016 election.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the FBI raid on Cohen’s home and office in April resulted in the disclosure of a recorded conversation between the lawyer and Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former adviser to Melania Trump. In the conversation Wolkoff, one of the main producers of the 20 January 2017 inauguration celebrations, is alleged to have “expressed concern” about how the inaugural committee was spending the money it had raised.
The Journal also reports that in their new inauguration inquiry, prosecutors are drawing on the help of Rick Gates, the former deputy chairman of the Trump inaugural committee. Gates pleaded guilty in February to a number of charges brought against him by the special counsel in the Russia investigation, Robert Mueller, and as part of his plea deal agreed to cooperate with the US justice department.
Many of the top donors to Republican causes in general, and to the 2016 Trump presidential campaign in particular, were represented among those who gave large sums to the inaugural fund. They include the Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, whose wife, Miriam, was last month bestowed by Trump with the highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.